A team of researchers from Penn State University and the University of Chicago has uncovered clues that may explain how and why a particular virus, called N4, injects an unusual substance -- an RNA polymerase protein -- into an E. coli bacterial cell. The results, which are published in the current issue of the journal Molecular Cell, contribute to improved understanding of the infection strategies used by viruses that attack bacterial cells. Such viruses are known as bacteriophages, or phages. The results also may help other researchers to come up with new ideas about ways to kill E. coli bacteria, which can be dangerous to humans.
"Most phages inject only their own DNA into bacterial cells," said Katsu Murakami, a Penn State assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a leader of the study. "These phages then use the host bacterial cell's RNA polymerase to synthesize messenger RNA through a process called transcription, which ultimately results in the creation of new phage proteins. These new proteins are used to construct new phages inside the bacterial cell. But the phage that we are studying is different. It injects both its own DNA and its own RNA polymerase into bacterial cells, so it can begin the process of transcription without any help from the bacterial host's RNA polymerase."
The team says that the N4 phage that they are studying is the only phage that they know of that injects its own RNA polymerases into bacterial cells. "We are particularly interested in finding out why N4 injects its own RNA polymerase into bacterial cells and how the N4 RNA polymerase finds the N4 DNA and initiates transcription -- and, ultimately, the creation of new N4 phages -- once it is inside a bacterial cell," said Murakami.
To begin to answer these questions, team member Michael Gleghorn, a former graduate student in the Penn State Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Bi
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